As one-quarter of our country’s population reaches retirement age in the coming years, the senior living design sector is tasked with preparing for an influx of baby boomer residents. We’ve all heard the statistic: 10,000 people every day are turning 65 years old across the country. With the entire baby boomer generation at the cusp of retirement, what does that mean for senior living?

Unlike previous generations, which were more willing to accept senior housing as-is, the baby boomer generation is looking for an elevated experience that will support their current way of life. They’re seeking out communities with built-in social opportunities and upgraded amenities to accommodate an active, engaged lifestyle.

Our work as designers has evolved into something we at Meyer call “individual-focused design,” with the following priorities looming large on boomers’ lists.

  1. Integration of technology in senior housing

The COVID-19 pandemic created an increased focus on integrated and innovative healthcare technology for those entering senior housing. We’re currently working with clients to incorporate operations technology such as wearable devices that can be tracked by property staff and provide real-time updates on residents’ health statuses in an effort to monitor for any risks or changes in health.

Similarly, we’ve worked with developers at Arbor Terrace Marlton, in Marlton, N.J., to design interactive game areas, adding new technology that can project puzzles and games on walls to create a more inclusive experience for all residents.

Furthermore, at The Virginian, in Fairfax, Va., we worked with senior housing developer Focus Healthcare Partners (Chicago) to incorporate circadian rhythm lighting systems to assist with regulating residents’ natural rhythms, patterns, and sleep cycles. With health and safety top of mind for new residents, these healthcare add-ons can create safer, more inclusive environments for all residents and increase the marketability of senior living properties.

  1. Larger, private residential units for seniors

Our work with senior living developers has revealed another focal point for the baby boomer generation: single-occupancy rooms and expanded room sizes. Whereas older communities might feature a small number of single-occupancy rooms in the memory care space, newer communities are responding to market demand by adding single-occupancy rooms for residents across all living options. For example, at The Chelsea at Washington Township, a luxury assisted living and memory care community that opened in October 2023 located in Washington Township, N.J., 80 percent of the units are single occupancy. The shift away from traditional double- or triple-occupancy rooms started pre-pandemic and has not slowed down.

  1. Diverse dining and amenities

During the pandemic, grab-and-go meal options, pickup areas (similar to DoorDash), and staggered mealtimes became a necessity to keep residents safe and distanced from one another. Today, the grab-and-go trend has become a permanent option for residents, adding choice and diversity to mealtimes and changing the environment in which seniors are dining.

Dining spaces are also being updated to incorporate forward-thinking, pop-up-style restaurants and flexible venues to feature a variety of unique options. At ACTS Buckingham’s Choice, in Adamstown, Md., for example, an underutilized area of the community that had been occupied by a bank, shop, bistro, and office space is being converted into a flexible dining venue. Through discussions with senior living operators, on-site property teams, and marketing directors, designers can gain valuable insights to determine unique ways to optimize underused spaces to benefit residents.

Additional priorities for new residents include upgraded amenities and interaction opportunities. Designers are thoughtfully developing lounge and bar areas for socialization, along with updated fitness studios (featuring new equipment and group classes). Outdoor amenities (with lakes, walking trails, and outdoor fitness areas) support the active lifestyles baby boomers have become accustomed to.

  1. Prioritize sustainable design

Baby boomers and their adult children are well informed about the principles of sustainability and are seeking out properties that prioritize environmentally friendly design.

Today’s designers are conducting research on how to make new projects carbon neutral by exploring new construction and building methods, as well as sustainable building materials. As sustainability becomes a larger focus across senior living design and construction, it’s also a factor that helps properties differentiate themselves from competitors.

An opportunity for creativity

As communities court the baby boomer generation, senior living developers and designers will have to work closely together in the coming years to properly execute on these priorities. To keep up with lasting trends, project teams can conduct research to inform renovations to existing properties as well as the development of new, ground-up facilities.

As more and more baby boomers prepare to enter senior communities in the near future, it’s an exciting time for creativity and innovation to breathe new life into senior living design.

Shannon Remaley, is a LEED green associate and principal at Meyer (Ardmore, Pa.) and can be reached at sremaley@meyerdesigninc.com.